Death in voices

While you’re thinking about your nominations for this year’s Australian Tumbleweeds Awards, we want to draw your attention to this blog about the “Royal Prank” and the consequent suicide of Jacinta Saldanha. It highlights some of the issues we’ve been thinking about over the past couple of days, including the culture at Austereo radio stations that seems to be as much, if not more, to blame for Saldanha’s tragic death. You can lay blame the DJs, or the producers, or management, or the hospital’s patient privacy policy, but the real problem is the source – and unfortunately it’s the hardest to fix.

Britain’s Leveson Inquiry into the culture, practices and ethics of the British press, sparked by the News International phone hacking scandal, shows us that while it’s not exactly a waste of time investigating the problems with the culture of an industry or organisation, there’s also not much you can really do to change it. A week or so after Leveson’s report was published Britain’s tabloid reporters were harassing Saldanha and her colleagues about the Royal Prank. Why? Because it’s how they get the stories to attract the readers to buy the newspapers they write for.

Similarly, in Australian commercial radio the job of the DJs is to come up with content that will keep the audience listening and phone pranks involving famous people are very much that. Sure, they get lawyers to look over anything that might be controversial, but in most cases it’ll be fine. If the Royal Prank hadn’t resulted in a suicide it’d be largely forgotten by now, even if the Police and ACMA had still decided to take an interest in it.

Audiences are pretty annoyed, of course, although probably not the regular listeners to 2Day FM to whom the station’s content is rigorously targeted. Sponsors may be withdrawing due to public pressure online, but once the fuss settles down they’ll probably come quietly back and everything will be back to normal. The problem, as the above-mentioned blog from The Preston Institute says, is the Austereo culture, and it’s unlikely to change: “I think they’ll just continue to live out their Mad Men fantasies, down another drink and continue to manage the PR.”

More likely to do some damage to Austereo are the hacking group Anonymous, who Mumbrella reports have made threats against the company. But any actions the group take are unlikely to result in the ongoing cultural change needed at the organisation. That would require an unlikely-to-occur mix of swiftly falling ratings, decreased sponsorship revenue, a courageous management team and attitudinal change amongst the station’s key demographics, and Anonymous’ incredible hacking skills can’t deliver that.

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1 Comment

  • UnSubject says:

    A big issue with social media outrage is that it blows up, a lot of people who weren’t involved in the original story or even have bothered to learn much about the issue get involved and everyone walks away feeling satisfed. Which is unfortunate, because they walk away before checking that anything has actually been achieved.

    It’s important to remember that despite all the criticism levelled at Alan Jones, his ratings actually went up following advertisers walking away during the “Died of Shame” incident.